Gardening for Gorillas at The Aspinall Foundation's Howletts Wild Animal Park

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The Gardening Team at Howletts Wild Animal Park Transform Enclosure into Horticultural Haven

Djhangou looks unimpressed by the flowers

credit Dave Rolfe

The flowers may not have been popular with the gorillas but the enclosure smelled great!

Western lowland gorillas at Howletts Wild Animal Park, near Canterbury, were treated to an edible garden in their enclosure recently when the gardening team decked out their home with floral and leafy treats.

The 12 strong group of gorillas, headed by impressive silverback, Djanghou, were given access to the newly decorated garden whilst keepers and gardeners held their breath as the makeover was revealed.

Lorna Wanless, Head of Gorilla Section commented: ‘All of the group were happy to see so much food scattered around – they immediately got busy investigating, foraging and eating. Unfortunately the sunflowers and lavender were passed over for the banana leaves and we removed them two days later. The flowers may not have been popular with the gorillas but they acted as an effective air freshener – the enclosure smelled great!’

Howletts is home to the largest collection of western lowland gorillas in the world and along with the sister park Port Lympne, near Ashford are credited as the most successful breeders of the species - now critically endangered in the wild.

Neil Spooner, Animal Director said: ‘We are rightly proud of our impressive breeding record with this species. We work with The Aspinall Foundation, a world leading conservation organisation and have successfully reintroduced over 50 western lowland gorillas back to the wild in Congo and Gabon.’

The skilled gardening team, who normally tend the 90 acre site, painstakingly transformed the large enclosure at Howletts with over 15 varieties of plants including sunflowers, hazel, apple, lavender, runner bean plants, bamboo, willow and plum, all cut from the site.

David Sutton, Head Gardener at Howletts said: ‘The idea for the gorilla garden came to us when we had to cut back a large banana plant for the winter as it had grown unmanageably tall. The idea was then expanded to use the sunflowers that we have grown for their seed heads and some of the herbs that we grow to form a regular part of the animals diets.’

‘I decided that if we were going to do it we may as well do it properly and go to town with providing a great experience for the gorillas and an opportunity for the team to do something a little out of the ordinary.’ David added.

Visitors to Howletts Wild Animal Park will be able to see the impressive group of western lowland gorillas and learn about the conservation work carried out by The Aspinall Foundation when they take advantage of the gold card scheme – the great value ticket that lasts for 12 months. For further information please visit


The Aspinall Foundation’s Port Lympne and Howletts Wild Animal Parks in Kent were set up by the late John Aspinall to be centres of excellence for animal husbandry within which to protect and breed threatened species, with a view to returning them to the wild wherever possible.

The Aspinall Foundation is a world leading conservation charity dedicated to keeping John Aspinall’s innovative conservation ethos alive leading the way through education, captive breeding and reintroduction. The Aspinall Foundation has projects both in the UK and overseas, including Java, Madagascar, Congo and The Gabon. Working in conjunction with the parks, The Aspinall Foundation has so far returned to the wild Przewalski's horses, black rhino, Cape buffalo, Burmese pythons and western lowland gorillas.

Howletts and Port Lympne Wild Animal Parks have been awarded Best Leisure and Tourism Business in Kent at the KEiBA awards 2012.

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Amanda McCabe
The Aspinall Foundation
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